The Barque of Peter

Latin Mass:  Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica
Beloved in the Lord, in May of 1862, St. John Bosco recounted what would be the most famous of his mystic dreams. He saw the ocean covered with many ships in battle, heavily armed and moving to attack another great ship. They closed in and tried to ram it, set it on fire, and cripple it.
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Then there appear in the sea two towering columns. On one, a statue of the Blessed Virgin, on the other a large Communion Host.
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In the battle, the Pope is wounded, yet is helped up and leads again; then struck down, he dies. A new Pope rises and steers the ship safely between the two columns of Mary and the Eucharist, and calm is restored.
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Friends in Christ, today is the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome. It is an anniversary of this, but it is about more than the Cathedral of Rome, this day is really about our Mother, the Church.
There are many images of the Church in Holy Scripture. Today in the Book of Revelation we see this image of the Church as the Heavenly Jerusalem. ‘And I saw the Holy City coming down out of heaven, prepared as a Bride for her husband.’ The Church is called the Bride of Christ, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Mystical Body.
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There is another image of the Church seen through the scriptures, it is the boat. From time immemorial, the Church has been called the ‘Barque of Peter.’ I asked a group recently, what is meant by the ‘Barque of Peter,’ but they did not know; it is an old word which means ‘boat,’ or ‘ship.’
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In St. Mark’s gospel, one reads about the multiplication of the loaves to feed the 5000. Then after that, is the scene of the apostles in the boat, tossed in the storm on the windy sea, full of fear; they see Our Lord walking on the sea, and when he comes into the boat, he says ‘Take courage, it is I.’ and the wind fell. There is a mysterious line then, which says: ‘They were beside themselves with astonishment, for they had not understood about the loaves.’ Many ask, ‘What did the multiplication of the loaves have to do with the incident in the ship?’
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Well, this multiplication of the loaves was a Eucharistic sign. But the incident in the boat was a sign also. The 12 apostles in the boat, represent the Church. The Church is tossed in the sea, and there is fear; but when Jesus comes into the boat with the Church, they are safe, and he comes into the Church – in the Holy Eucharist. This is why St. Mark comments, that they were astonished because they did not understand about the loaves.
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So here, the boat is a sign of the Church. Now if we turn to the Acts of the Apostles, we see there the apostle Paul[i] has been arrested and is being taken on a boat – to Rome. Here again, they find themselves in a storm; ‘We were being tossed about by the violence of the storm,’ he says, and the next day they threw some of the cargo overboard. Some wanted to bail out, but St. Paul tells them: ‘Unless these men remain in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ You have to remain in the ship to be saved.
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Then he said to them, ‘I beg you to take some food for your safety,’ then no one of you shall perish. Then he took bread, gave thanks to God and broke it and began to eat.’ A Eucharistic sign, on the ship.
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Jesus is with us in the boat. Unless we remain in the boat, we cannot be saved. But this Barque of Peter must experience many great storms.
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One time the apostles were in the boat during a storm; it was being swamped by the waves and taking on water – but ‘Jesus was sleeping!,’ it says, he was awoken, calmed and storm and said, Do you have no faith?’
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Of course the original boat image of the Church is found way back in Genesis, the story of Noah and the ark. There, the Just man, Noah, saved his family in that ship; but this was a sign of the Just Man, Jesus, who will save his family in the Church.
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That great ark brought them through the flood to the new creation. The boat of Peter, the Church, will bring us safely to the New Creation, heaven.
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Way back in 1970, a little known theologian named Joseph Ratzinger[ii] made a prediction. He said: “The church will become small and will have to start afresh. As the number of her members diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . It will be hard-going for the Church; [this] process … will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, he says, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. [Then] men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. But they will discover the little flock of believers as something new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them. Our Lord’s boat is being tossed by storms and waves, but Jesus is with us. And so is Mary.
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Blessed Isaac of Stella said, Mary and the Church are one Mother.
Each gives birth to a child of God without sin.
Without any sin, Mary gave birth to Christ.
By Baptism and forgiveness, the Church gives birth to us.
O dear Blessed Virgin, aid us and help us in the stormy seas, and guide us safely to the port of heaven.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas]

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[i] Acts 27:18-35

[ii] – Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), from his book Faith and the Future

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